You’ve been told you should be staying active and exercising during your pregnancy, but what exactly should you be focusing on to prepare your body for labor and delivery?
How do we train for the specific demands labor and delivery place on our bodies, both physically and mentally?
There are specific steps you can take to prepare for this incredible event. And the good news is you can do all of this from your own home in a space the size of a yoga mat! This post will focus on strengthening and training the muscles of the inner core specifically for labor and delivery.
Strengthen Muscles of the Inner Core
Most people need to learn how to engage the inner core. The inner core is made up of the diaphragm (primary respiratory muscle,) transverse abdominis (supports and stabilizes the spine and pelvis,) and pelvic floor muscles (support the pelvic organs, stabilize the pelvis, control continence, aid in sexual response, and assist in guiding the baby out properly during delivery.) A properly functioning and strong inner core can help reduce pregnancy pains and injury, create a healthier growth environment for the fetus, and facilitate an easier labor and postpartum recovery. During labor, proper breathing can improve concentration and releases endorphins to better manage pain. The way to a properly functioning and strong inner core is practicing proper breathing technique and pelvic floor activations:
- Start by sitting in a chair with neutral alignment (ears over shoulders, shoulders over hips)
- Place your hands around your rib cage with your thumbs on the back of the rib cage and the rest of your fingers on the front.
- Inhale through the nose, feeling the air fill your belly, ribcage, and back.
- Exhale through the mouth like you’re blowing out a candle. This will engage the transverse abdominis and your naval will draw in.
- Repeat for 5-8 breaths, focusing on the exhale.
Patterned Breathing for Labor: Patterned breathing for stage one of labor is a great distraction technique. To find your pattern, take a 360 inhale and exhale and count how long each takes. Whatever the number you count for the inhale/exhale is your pattern. For example, if you count to four on the inhale and five on the exhale your pattern is 4:5.
Pelvic Floor Activations (Slow):
- Sit in a chair with neutral alignment
- Start by finding the four attachment points of the pelvic floor - front, back, and on the sides.
- To find the front muscles, relax and contract like you were going to stop peeing
- To find the back, imagine you’re going to stop passing gas.
- To find the sides, sit on your hands and feel the bony part of your sit bones. That’s where the muscles attach.
- Take an inhale through the nose and feel the pelvic floor relax.
- Exhale through the mouth and bring all four attachment points together and up.
- On the next inhale, really focus on the lengthening portion of the exercise. These muscles will relax and lengthen to help guide the baby out during delivery.
- Repeat for 5-8 breaths.
This prepares you for stage two of labor – pushing. Use this technique to engage the transverse abdominis to push the baby down, while the pelvic floor relaxes and lengthens to help guide the baby out. Push prep should include breathing through a full inhale and exhale while keeping the pelvic floor lengthened.
Push Prep Breathing
- Inhale through the nose, feel the ribcage expand in all directions, and relax the pelvic floor.
- Exhale through the mouth, feel the ribcage knit together and the naval draw into the spine while keeping the pelvic floor relaxed.
While everyone benefits from a strong and well functioning inner core, I found these breathing techniques to be a really relaxing part of my routine during my pregnancy and a powerful distraction as I went into labor. Practice these on your own a few times a day and let me know how it goes.
Stay tuned for Part Two of this series, which will focus on mobility and endurance training!
Meet the Author
Kristen is a NASM certified personal trainer who also holds a masters degree in social work from Fordham University. She has a strong interest in the interconnectedness between physical health and mental well-being that led her to pursue a career in personal training. Kristen works to promote healthy and happy lifestyles by coaching her clients through safe and fun workouts designed to help them achieve their personal goals.
Growing up as a competitive figure skater and ice hockey player, movement and physical fitness have always played a central role in her life. Kristen is an avid snowboarder and enjoys spending time outdoors hiking and biking with her family.
“I love helping my clients reach their wellness goals by designing fitness programs that can be incorporated into a balanced lifestyle. My goal is to make working out a fun part of your routine!”
If you'd like to train with Kristen, shoot her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!